| Gavaskar is deeply concerned about the effects of sledging
Australia, the world’s strongest team, on Tuesday stood accused by an eminent former Test cricketer of damaging the game through their persistent abusive behaviour. Sunil Gavaskar, the former India batsman, did not mention Australia by name or specify incidents during his Cowdrey Lecture at Lord’s, but he left no doubt that he was deeply concerned about the knock-on effect of such behaviour.
He said: “Out of a possible 150 Test cricketers from 10 Test-playing countries there are perhaps not even 15 who indulge in this verbal abuse and intimidation, but unfortunately most of these belong to a champion side, and it makes others believe that it’s the only way to play winning cricket.”
Gavaskar’s remarks carried extra weight because of his key role in the ICC as chairman of the playing committee, though his views on nearly every aspect of cricket have been well aired through his media work.
Gavaskar, the worried former cricketer and family man, was the person who spoke passionately to a 350-strong audience gathered by the Marylebone Cricket Club in a scintillating speech on Tuesday.
He claimed that parents were increasingly reluctant to let their young children play the game because of growing on-field animosity, reflecting a mean-spirited attitude permeating down from the top. The decline included dishonest appealing, cheating by batsmen and a general lack of respect for opponents.
“Kids see it on TV from their heroes and believe that it is part of the game, and so indulge in it,” Gavaskar said. “Here it is crucial for the coaches to step in and tell them, while the kids are at an impressionable age, that this is wrong and that cricket has been played for years without indulging in personal abuse.
“The old adage ‘it’s not cricket’, which applied to just about everything in life, is no longer valid — and that’s a real pity. In the modern world of commercialisation of the game and the advent of satellite television and the motto of winning at all costs, sportsmanship has gone for six.
“Now I have heard it being said that whenever there’s been needle in a match, words have been exchanged. That may be true, but what was banter in days gone by — and was enjoyed by everyone, including the recipient — today has degenerated to downright personal abuse.”
Sledging, Gavaskar said, was a modern phenomenon. “There is more money in other sports such as golf and tennis but, thanks to tough laws, one does not find misbehaviour or bad language there,” he said, adding that great cricket sides such as the 1948 Australians and Clive Lloyd’s West Indians avoided verbal abuse.
Gavaskar referred to the unpleasant scenes in Antigua in May when Glenn McGrath, the Australian seam bowler, squared up to batsmen during the West Indies victory in one of the great Test matches of all time.
Gavaskar said players used to have the game as a whole at heart by playing in the right spirit. Gundappa Viswanath, as India’s captain, once withdrew an appeal against Bob Taylor because he realised the England batsman had been given out wrongly. “India lost the Test, but Vishy is remembered for that and loved all the more for it.”
As for banter, Fred Trueman was among the funniest. Gavaskar said he once conveyed the best wishes of his uncle, Madhav Mantri, to him in he commentary box during the 1990 India tour. On seeing Trueman’s quizzical look, he explained that Mantri was one of Fred’s four victims for no runs in 1952.
“I wouldn’t remember him then, would I,” growled the long-retired fast bowler.